Album Reviews

Album Review: The Chicks - Gaslighter (Columbia)

Produced in partnership with Elsewhere.co.nz

Graham Reid
The Chicks - March March (Live on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert)

The former Dixie Chicks who so offended Bush the Younger, some of his Southern loyalists and faced boycotts and death threats 17 years ago, here return on an album after a 14-year absence with an abbreviated name after doing due diligence with the New Zealand's Sixties band of the same name – unlike Lady Antebellum who in their move to Lady A are embroiled in an unseemly mess, not entirely of their own making.

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The Chicks

The album title Gaslighter also captures the mood and argot of the times too, and their songs are typically dealing with mature matters: arrogant and unfaithful men, “the ol' boys in the white bread lobby”, being an independent woman, more unfaithful men made of emotional Teflon, trying to bring up responsible young sons, more unfaithful men . . .

And all of this is wrapped in sharp post-country-rock, big or downtempo ballads with powerful instrumentation, mostly courtesy of go-to co-producer Jack Antonoff.

This is an affirmative action shout-out album for women and men to support them (“I'm not a martyr, just someone who cares . . . stand up for her” on "For Her") which also calls out Trump and his followers: “temperatures are risin', cities are sinkin' . . . lies are truth and truth is fiction . . . what the hell happened in Helsinki” on the powerfully understated centrepiece "March March" “to my own drum . . . I'm an army of one”.

Woven between these songs are much more personal messages as on "My Best Friend's Wedding" about the singer and a friend 20 years on having escaped previous relationships, and "Tights on My Boat" which is part Taylor Swift/Beyonce revenge (“You can call the girl who left her tights on my boat that she can have you . . . you're gonna get what's comin' to ya”).

On "Julianna Calm Down" they pass the message to women going through the pains of separation to be strong and confident “and do it with a smile so no-one knows [the hurt]”.

The interesting and convincing thing here is the Chicks don't pretend to be anyone other than who they are: they mention being on tour, being rich (“will your dad pay your taxes now that I'm done”) and "My Best Friend's Wedding" is about singer Natalie Maines' meeting her future husband Adrian Pasdar – an actor and seemingly also the subject of the title track, which also mentions what happened on that boat – while "Young Man" is her address to her two teenage sons when she and Pasdar separated three years ago and “your hero fell as you came of age”.

The final aching "Set Me Free" (“I've done what I know to help me move on . . . untangle me from your lifeline . . . the weight of this hate was exhausting”) sounds like an open letter to someone specific but also a universal sentiment for those going through a painful and seemingly endless, bitter separation.

This is serious stuff and the running order front-loads the two most pop-country settings, but thereafter it's a slower journey through spare ballads to the very downbeat and inter-related "Hope It's Something Good" and "Set Me Free" at the end.

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The Chicks have had a lot of time to get this collection together, but most of these songs sound like 45-year old songwriter Natalie Maines dealing with her personal life of the past five years.

If you don't know what has gone on, you will after Gaslighter.

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Released: 17 Jul 2020

Written By: Graham Reid Graham goes to a proper opera every year just to make sure they are still behaving themselves. Otherwise, he's immersed in everything from indie rock and power pop to world music and free jazz. He has always bought cheap'n'trashy secondhand and shiny new vinyl, and his long-running website has literally thousands of music reviews, interviews and overviews. Search parties have been sent looking for those who have got lost in www.elsewhere.co.nz